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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Milan’s fashion world mobilises for Italy vote

Go out and vote to protect your rights, top Italian designers urged compatriots this week as the Milan shows coincided with elections predicted to see a far-right government take power in Rome.

donatella versace in milan
Italian fashion designer Donatella Versace pictured after the presentation of Versace's Women's Spring Summer 2023 fashion collection on September 23, 2022 at Milan Fashion Week. Versace has urged people to vote in Sunday's election. Photo: Miguel MEDINA / AFP

From Donatella Versace to Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli, calls to mobilise have been everywhere at Milan Fashion Week. Houses such as Gucci and Fendi are actively helping their employees cast their ballots in Sunday’s general elections.

“Go out and vote, these elections are so important for our country!” Versace said on Instagram ahead of her fashion house’s Friday show.

“On September 25 vote to protect rights already acquired, thinking about progress and with an eye on the future,” she posted.

“Never look back.”

Left-wing activists fear the ascent to power of far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, who is leading opinion polls, will lead to a step backward for rights in Catholic-majority Italy.

READ ALSO: Giorgia Meloni’s party will likely win the elections – but will it last?

Meloni and her main ally, League party leader Matteo Salvini, advocate traditional Catholic family values and rail against what she calls “LGBT lobbies”.

Meloni says she would not change the law legalising abortion, but says she wants to give mothers “the choice” not to terminate.

Piccioli, creative director at Valentino, published a lengthy post on Instagram in defence of tolerance, under the title, “A man of the left”.

‘Afraid of the consequences’ 

“The idea that there are people, human beings, who at this moment may be afraid of the consequences of this election fills me with rage,” he wrote.

He called on young people in particular to go and vote, because “we must not step back a millimetre on rights we have, and in fact the time is right to acquire new and fundamental ones”.

Influencer and fashion entrepreneur Chiara Ferragni has also called on her 28 million Instagram followers to defend LGBTQ and abortion rights.

READ ALSO: Your ultimate guide to Italy’s crucial elections on Sunday

While accepting that many people might feel unhappy about the choices on offer, she warned that not voting “is only to delegate to others what is up to us to decide”.

For millions of Italians, however, taking part in elections is not straightforward.

Postal voting is not available except for those living abroad, meaning they must physically return to their legal place of residence to cast a ballot.

And here again designers in Milan are getting involved.

READ ALSO: TIMELINE: What happens on election day and when do we get the results?

Giacomo, a member of staff for Gucci based in Rome who did not give his last name, said the fashion giant “has completely reorganised the work to allow us to go home to vote”.

Like the rest of his team, he is in Milan for the spring/summer 2023 catwalk shows that run until Monday.

Paying for travel home

“We organised a lot of things to finish up on Saturday — we’re on our knees but reassured to be able to go and vote,” he told AFP.

“Some of us will go back to Milan on Sunday evening or Monday to continue the post-show work, and everything is taken care of by Gucci.”

From designers and stylists to production and marketing staff, about 80 percent of the teams of fashion houses are mobilised to Milan both for the show and, afterwards, sales.

Serge Brunschwig, head of Fendi, which had its show here on Wednesday, said its Milan showroom would close on election day on Sunday.

“We are paying for the travel of our Italian teams so they can go to their polling stations and return to Milan on Monday or Tuesday,” he said.

With turnout predicted to be historically low, below 70 percent, many here feel that if they can get back to vote, then they should.

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: What’s behind the decline in Italian voter turnout?

“Some of us have to go and vote in Puglia, in Sicily, in Sardinia,” said Roberto Strino, 39,  who works for Giorgio Armani, railing against the lack of a technological alternative.

“I will do it, because the elections are very important and we must take a stand against the far-right.”

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MIGRANT CRISIS

EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers met in Brussels on Friday to discuss the latest migrant crisis – a move that was precipitated by Italy's controversial clash with France over the handling of refugees.

EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers gathered for crisis talks on Friday as an ugly row between Paris and Rome over how to handle would-be refugees forced a EU migration reform back onto their agenda.

New arrival numbers haven’t yet hit the levels of 2015 and 2016, but European capitals are concerned about new pressure on sea routes from North Africa and overland through the western Balkans.

And now, with winter temperatures descending in eastern Europe and Ukrainian cities facing power cuts under Russian bombardment, the European Union is braced for many more war refugees.

The bloc has been struggling for years to agree and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers, but a new dispute has brought the issue to the fore.

READ ALSO: Why are France and Italy rowing over migrants and what are the consequences?

Earlier this month, Italy’s new government under far-right leader Georgia Meloni refused to allow a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship to dock with 234 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.

The Ocean Viking eventually continued on to France, where authorities reacted with fury to Rome’s stance, suspending an earlier deal to take in 3,500 asylum seekers stranded in Italy.

The row undermined the EU’s stop-gap interim solution to the problem, and Paris called Friday’s extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states.

Migrants in Lampedusa, Italy

Earlier this month, France suspended a deal by which it would take as many as 3,500 refugees stranded in Italy. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Complaints from Mediterranean countries closer to North African shores like Italy and Greece that they were shouldering too much responsibility for migrants led to the previous plan.

A dozen EU members agreed to take on 8,000 asylum seekers – with France and Germany taking 3,500 each – but so far just 117 relocations have taken place.

‘Nothing new’

After Italy refused responsibility for the Ocean Viking, France has declared that it no longer wants to not only allow ships to arrive from Italian waters but also take in thousands of other migrants.

On Monday, in a bid to revive the mechanism, the European Commission unveiled another action plan to better regulate arrivals on the central Mediterranean route.

“Obviously the meeting was set up following the spat between Italy and France over the migrants aboard the Ocean Viking,” a European diplomat said.

“The action plan that was shared with member states is perfectly fine, but contains nothing new, so it isn’t going to solve the migration issue.”

Stephanie Pope, an expert on migration for the aid agency Oxfam, dubbed Brussels’ plan “just another reshuffle of old ideas that do not work”. 

“It is a waste of time,” she said.

The plan would see a closer coordination between EU national authorities and humanitarian NGOs on rescues of migrants whose make-shift, overcrowded boats are in difficulty.

And it would see Brussels work more closely with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to try to stop undocumented migrants boarding smuggler vessels in the first place.

READ ALSO: Italy arrests suspected trafficker over deaths of seven migrants

France would like a new framework within which NGO boats could operate – neither a total ban nor a carte blanche to import would-be refugees.

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse the humanitarian charities of operating without respect to national authorities and of effectively encouraging immigration.

Migrants on a boat arriving in Italy

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse NGOs of operating with disregard to national authorities. Photo by Gianluca CHININEA / AFP

Other member states, including Germany, argue that there can be no limits on humanitarian operations – all seafarers are obliged by the law of the sea to save travellers in danger. 

Ahead of the talks, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, warned: “With almost 2,000 people having already died or gone missing so far this year alone, urgent action is needed.”

Grandi welcomed the European Commission’s draft plan for state-led rescues and predictable ports of disembarkation, adding: “While states point fingers and trade blame, lives are lost.”

Border force

While France and Italy argue about high-profile cases of dramatic rescues in the central Mediterranean, other EU capitals are more concerned about land routes through the Balkans.

Almost 130,000 undocumented migrants are estimated to have come to the bloc since the start of the year, an increase of 160 percent, according to the EU border force Frontex.

On Thursday, the Czech, Austrian, Slovak and Hungarian ministers met in Prague ahead of the trip to Brussels to stress that this route accounts for more than half of “illegal arrivals” in the bloc.

Austrian interior minister Gerhard Karner said the EU should finance border protection and give members “a legal tool to return people who come for economic reasons”.

Diplomats said France and Italy would try to dominate the talks with complaints about sea arrivals, while Greece and Cyprus would point fingers at Turkey for allegedly facilitating illegal entries.

Central and eastern countries would focus on the Balkans route and, as one diplomat said, “Hungary and Poland don’t want anything to do with anything in the field of migration.”

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